What can we learn from Skill Acquisition

Over the last few days I attended the Sports & Data Conference held in UCD. I will do a bigger round-up piece but just something short to start.

The very first talk was Nick Wilkeman of the IRFU. Nick spoke mainly from a skill acquisition point of view but it left me with a lot of questions performance analysts should consider. He spoke about “Performance being a temporary change in behavior, while learning is a more permanent change.”

It’s not to say either is bad, there is a likely a time and a place for both but as analysts what are the majority of feedback sessions aimed at? Performance or Learning. Should the session look exactly the same even if the desired intention is different? I’m not sure as an industry we do enough to address these types of questions. What would a performance feedback session look like compared to a learning session? In your club what would you say the majority of sessions are most like?


I think there is a huge amount we could learn from the skill acquisition field. They are researching how to improve players, how to talk to them to get the best results, how to design practice (learning spaces) that makes the best use of contact time and they are also researching how the brain responds to certain cue’s (feedback). This doesn’t feel very different that the same sort of situations we need to look at as analysts.

Nick quoted some research and said; “The Learning brain of a novice looks a lot like the choking brain of an expert”

Feedback is such a vital part of the analysis process. The words we use and what we get the athletes to focus on could be having an effect on their brain. Do we always need that video review? Is it always helpful? How could the time be used more efficiently. I think this is a massively under researched area in team sports.



Rob Carroll. Founder of The Video Analyst.com Performance Analyst. Always learning.